A billboard advertising the TV series "The Magnificent Century" is seen after being damaged by eggs thrown by pro-Islamic protesters in Istanbul, January 9, 2011. Photo: Reuters
A hit TV show about the Ottoman Empire's longest-reigning Sultan has raised a political storm in Turkey, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan urging legal action over historical inaccuracies and the opposition accusing him of artistic tyranny.
Erdogan tore into the weekly soap opera "Magnificent Century", which attracts an audience of up to 150 million people in Turkey as well as parts of the Balkans and Middle East, in response to criticism of his government's foreign policy.
The lavish television production, which grips audiences with tales of power struggles and palace intrigue, is set during the 16th century reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, when Ottoman rulers held sway over an empire straddling three continents.
Bristling at suggestions that Turkey was meddling too much in its neighbours' affairs, Erdogan recalled Turkey's heritage, and said Suleiman had been a proud conqueror rather than the indulgent harem-lover portrayed in the show.
"(Critics) ask why are we dealing with the affairs of Iraq, Syria and Gaza," Erdogan said at the opening of an airport in western Turkey on Sunday.
"They know our fathers and ancestors through 'Magnificent Century', but we don't know such a Suleiman. He spent 30 years on horseback, not in the palace, not what you see in that series."
Scenes that showed Suleiman with women in the harem have prompted calls from viewers in the mostly Muslim and largely conservative country for the broadcasting regulator (RTUK) to ban the series. But it tops the viewing charts each week.
Erdogan said the director of the series, which has been on air since January 2011, and the owner of the channel that broadcasts it had been warned, but also said he expected the judiciary to act, without elaborating.
Erdogan's opponents accused him of authoritarianism.
"The prime minister must be jealous of the series' popularity. He thinks there's no need for another sultan when he's in power," said Muharrem Ince, the deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
"Erdogan wants to be the only sultan."
Elected a decade ago with the strongest majority seen in years, Erdogan has overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity in Turkey. But concerns are growing about his increasingly authoritarian rule.
Hundreds of politicians, academics and journalists are in jail on charges of plotting against the government, while more than 300 army officers were given prison terms in September for conspiring to topple him not long after he swept to power.
Turkey has been increasingly assertive in regional politics, most notably over the crisis in neighbouring Syria, where it has led calls for international action and scrambled war planes in a warning to Damascus not to violate its territory.
"I think the prime minister's aim here is to change the agenda. I can't think of any other reason to discuss an imaginary television series when there are so many problems in a country," Nebahat Cehre, who played Suleiman's mother during the first two seasons, told Turkey's Birgun newspaper.